Willie Mitchell getting his timing back after long absence
Most members of the Kings had to shake off a summer’s worth of rust when they reported to training camp. Defenseman Willie Mitchell has had to return after an unwanted eight-month break and it's no simple process.
Mitchell last played on Jan. 16. Then with the Vancouver Canucks, he suffered a concussion after being slammed into the boards from behind by Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin.
In mid-May, he was very limited in his physical activity. However, he improved and was cleared to play in early August, too late for the July 1 free-agent rush but in time to get a two-year, $7-million contract from the Kings.
“Willie Mitchell looks really good,” Coach Terry Murray said Sunday. “He’s very competitive. He’s a big guy that does a lot of things very well out there for us.
“I take into consideration that he’s been off the ice for a long time. And when you have the forecheck pressure coming at you it’s happening quickly. I think he’s readjusting to that kind of look, to get on the ice in a competitive atmosphere very well.”
Mitchell said he hasn’t had any problems beyond the usual transition to a new team.
“It’s been good actually. Not too bad,” he said. “For sure it’s a little bit of adjustment with anyone this time of year. Just trying to get the hang of a new system and new players and stuff like that, so it’s going pretty good.
“I’m just really anxious to get into a more structured format. That’s kind of been nice. You can only do so much in the summer. So getting a few practices underneath your belt, start getting your timing and those things get you that much more ready for the season.”
He hasn’t flinched from contact and on Sunday got into a battle in the corner.
“I pulled the reins back a little there. I don’t want to be in the first fight in training camp. I was pretty close to that too,” he said. “I was, ‘OK, I’m a new guy. Just settle it down here.’
“I like to think that I compete hard and that’s what I’m here trying to bring this team. I love to play. It’s a passion.”
Mitchell, 33, has been paired with 20-year-old Drew Doughty.
“It’s a little bit of an adjustment period for me playing with him and him as well for playing with me. Just tendencies,” Mitchell said. “I personally like to have a really good relationship with my defense partner. I like to talk a lot out on the ice. I think it’s really important to have a good relationship and build that camaraderie together where you want to be successful together. I think he wants that as well and that’s exciting.”
Doughty said they had one failure to communicate and blamed himself.
“He was trying to tell me to do one thing and I wasn’t thinking and did the other thing and we got burned on it but it takes time to get used to a defense partner,” Doughty said. “It’s going to take probably a couple of games through exhibitions to get used to each other, but we’re doing a good job so far.”
He appreciates Mitchell’s defense-first style, which should allow Doughty to take more chances offensively.
“Off the ice he’s a great guy and a lot of fun. Kind of similar to me in ways,” Doughty said. “We brought him here to be one of our top four defensemen and he’s been great so far.
“That stick -- every time I just have to make sure and try and get them to make [a] cross-ice pass and his stick’s so long he’s going to pick it off every time.”
What he really means is he expects Mitchell to pick off those passes and feed him to race up ice.
“That’s the plan,” Doughty said, laughing.
Another Doughty note: Although he had a terrific season and was a Norris Trophy finalist, Kings executives believed he could have been in better shape and urged him to improve his conditioning. Doughty, who struggled with his weight in junior hockey, said he worked at getting leaner, and he does look slimmer. The Kings haven’t released the results of players’ conditioning tests.
“I have a different body type than everyone else,” he said. “Everyone else is losing weight. I’m gaining weight throughout the season for some odd reason. . . . I feel strong out there and a little bit quicker so that’s a bonus.”
Murray changed Monday’s schedule, consolidating the three practice groups into two. Here’s the revised plan, with on-ice sessions at the Toyota Sports Center open to the public:
Group B – Goaltending Session 8 a.m.-8:45 a.m.
Group B – Practice on NHL Ice 9 a.m.-10 a.m.
Group B – Practice on NHL Ice 10:20 a.m.-11:20 a.m.
Group B – Skate on Olympic Ice 11:25 – 11:45 a.m.
Group A – Goaltending Session 12:15p.m.-1 p.m.
Group A – Practice on NHL Ice 1:15 – 2:15 p.m.
Group A – Practice on NHL Ice 2:35 – 3:35 p.m.
Group A – Skate – NHL Ice 3:40 – 4 p.m.
Photo: Willie Mitchell, playing with the Canucks, is tripped in front of the crease by the Ducks' Bobby Ryan during a game last December. Credit: Darryl Dyck / Canadian Press